Looking as I do right now, with my long-hippie-style hair and my black faux-military jacket with skulls on it, an old gas mask bag slung over my shoulder, I was not surprised to be greeted with a general distrust. The look I was given as the words, "How can I help you?" came out of the saleslady's mouth was really enough to inform me that she didn't truly want to help me.
Indeed, she suspected unsavory motives in my visit.
It's an odd feeling: stepping into a place that supplies religious items, and feeling religiously out of place. Not so much because you feel like you don't belong, but rather because you feel like someone else thinks you shouldn't belong.
I told her I was fine, and knew what I was looking for. I spent five minutes rummaging through vestments, checking robe length against garment bag length, looking for a way to carry my white robe across the country without getting it wrinkly, dingy or dirty. I wanted something that would be easy to carry onto a plane (so no bags that just had hangers for handles) and that would be durable enough to handle being thrown into the bowels of a cargo compartment if needed.
I was slowly becoming frustrated: the concept isn't hard, is it? I'm positive that the clergy of other religions take their vestments with them across the country, and they're probably far more worried about wrinkles than I am. There had to be a solution there.
Well, the saleslady came back out and asked me what I was looking for. At the time, I was browsing through a catalogue of vestments, trying to find what length I needed. I could tell she still had reservations, and I saw her sweep her eyes across the expensive items in the case in front of me, but she was less willing to judge my motives and more willing to sell me something. I have a feeling that her boss had gotten involved.
I informed her of what I was looking for, and pointed out the vestments I already had. I expressed some dissatisfaction with the length of the garment bags on hand, and she suggested a garment portfolio instead, pointing me to a bag I had not seen yet.
I looked this over. Slightly dirty, somewhat worn, and not particularly impressive looking, but sturdily constructed and wide enough to fit my robe: it passed the real tests. I thanked her and said I'd take this under consideration, too (noting to myself that it was twice as expensive as the most expensive garment bag there). I began to wander around the rest of the store, bag in hand, and she watched me as I wandered through candles and a variety of other religious artificats (such as a statue of Christ being tackled by a child during a football game).
In the end, I settled in my mind on this bag, and took it to the counter. I went to pay with my card, and showed her my ID. She eyed it somewhat suspiciously, and another cashier looked at it and said, "Hey, the guy on the ID doesn't have long hair!"
"Well, it's been over a year since I cut it," I said.
The second cashier added, "Oh, I know how that can go. Sometimes, you're just too busy. But, it makes you look more like Jesus."
I ignored the last comment. Not to be rude, but because it really didn't sink in until I had already started speaking, still on my last thought. "I figure I can grow it out long enough to donate it, perhaps."
Now the saleslady who had eyed me so darkly and suspiciously for the past twenty minutes was very friendly: her face brightened and a smile sprang to her lips. "Oh, well that's a wonderful thing!" She took another look at the bag. "You know," she said, "the bag is a bit dingy and it doesn't look very new. Let's take 20% off."
Looks create interesting perceptions among people. I've been learning a lot about what clothes can do for you, and how people perceive someone with long hair. It is interesting to me how age makes a difference, as do place in life and occupation, in how others perceive your choices of style and personal expression.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go teach a child how to hold a golf club.